News sites add content, capacity in preparation for war

Faced with what appears to be an inevitable U.S.-led war against Iraq, online news providers have been busy preparing their sites for a spike in traffic by bolstering IT infrastructure and streamlining content.

Cable News Network LP LLP's CNN.com, for example, has been performing load balancing among its servers and has changed the appearance of its site, adding a new special report section, according to Monty Mullig, senior vice president of CNN Internet Technologies.

Traffic to the site has been swelling as the possibility of war draws nearer, Mullig said Wednesday, and is currently twice as high as it was earlier this year.

"We expect traffic to jump even higher when hostilities break out," Mullig said.

CNN.com and other sites already took steps to increase their network capacity and make contingency plans following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when news providers were caught off guard by the sudden uptick in traffic as Net users rushed to their computers to find out what was going on.

Inundated with traffic on Sept. 11, CNN.com was forced to strip its graphics and quickly boost its bandwidth. Since then, the site has added to its server capacity and implemented load balancing.

"We learned a lot on Sept. 11 about demand. It changed our approach drastically," Mullig said, adding that CNN.com has been gearing up to be able to absorb another event of that scale.

"We think we have more than enough capacity," Mullig said."But it's like buying a car they say can go 130 miles per hour. You don't actually know if it can go that fast until you try it out."

CNN.com isn't the only news site shifting gears in the face of war. Reuters Group PLC's Reuters.com has recently plugged in an extra Web server and application server it had on hand, according to Reuters.com Development Director Christopher Gruber.

"We are preparing for additional traffic, assuming it will peak into tonight and tomorrow," Gruber said Wednesday.

He added that Reuters.com has had some 2.5 million pageviews a day so far this week, compared to 1 million pageviews a day that the news provider's U.S. site had a month ago.

Reuters' wartime preparations also include an expansion of content, as the site rolled out a new streaming video feature Wednesday, that allows users to view raw war-related footage on the Iraq crisis.

"This is the first time that Reuters has gone to market with a consumer video product over the Net," said Rich Sabreen, executive vice president and global head of Reuters Media.

"Reuters Raw Video: Conflict in Iraq" is currently free but Sabreen said that the company plans to make it available only through paid subscription within a week.

"We want people to sample it and preview it because it's not what they are used to seeing," Sabreen added, noting that the footage is not packaged with anchor commentary, and is streamed with "natural sound" from the scene.

The video is streamed via The FeedRoom.com Inc., which powers over 100 media streaming destinations on the Web, according to FeedRoom Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jon Klein.

Klein said that the video offering is important because "a majority of U.S. workers have broadband in their office and much of this conflict will take place while people are at work."

That news sites are able to bolster both their capacity and content is mostly thanks to measures they have taken since Sept. 11, according to Harald Prokop, director of Network Intelligence at content delivery provider Akamai Technologies Inc , which has a handful of news sites and government agencies as customers.

"People have come to us about provisioning capacity, securing sites against attack, limiting streaming and preparing lightweight versions of their sites," Prokop said.

The big difference between how sites are handling the Iraq situation versus how they dealt with Sept. 11 is that this time they are prepared, Prokop added.

"Most companies have contingency plans and have budget teams focused on preparing," he said.

Still, news providers do not expect to see a traffic jump as severe as during Sept. 11 given that the conflict in Iraq has been widely anticipated.

"We're comparing this to an elections event, like in 2000," CNN's Mullig said.

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